Chelsea still have one more fixture to negotiate before the advent of the New Year -- a top-four clash on Sunday with old foes Liverpool, no less -- but whatever the result it will not change the fact that 2013 has been yet another roller-coaster year for the club.
The last 12 months have seen fortunes and emotions fluctuate from joy to despair with frustration and elation curiously never that far apart from each other. Here are five of the events that have helped to set the tone for a remarkable year.
Trouble in the garden of Eden
Of all the ridiculous pitfalls to hamper Chelsea in 2013, none can be more bizarre than “Ballboy-gate”. In the second leg of the League Cup semi-final tie with Swansea City, Eden Hazard received his marching orders for seemingly kicking out at Liberty Stadium ballboy Charlie Morgan, even though it was palpably clear that he was simply trying to retrieve the ball from the youngster who was blatantly attempting to waste time by not returning it to the field of play.
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That Morgan then rolled around on the floor as if he had been on the end of a Roy Keane reducer would have made the situation all the more laughable had it not seen Hazard banned for three games and simultaneously sent misinformed moralising observers into meltdown.
The incident was symbolic of what was a dreadful January for the Blues. Although Arsenal were beaten at home, that was more than negated by the exit from the League Cup, a home loss to relegation certainties and local rivals QPR, a draw from the depths of defeat against League One Brentford in the FA Cup and the surrender of two-goal leads against both Southampton and Reading -- another side set to drop out of the Premier League at the end of the season. For all those wondering why Rafael Benitez was not universally lauded by supporters at the end of the campaign despite fulfilling his brief, a look back to this month will highlight the reasons why.
The record is broken
May 11, 2013. The day a player cemented his legend at Chelsea Football Club. Frank Lampard had been on the cusp of breaking Bobby Tambling’s goalscoring record for what had seemed like an eternity, stuck on 201 -- just a single strike behind the hotshot from the 1960s.
In a match from which Chelsea needed just three points to guarantee qualification for the Champions League but were struggling against an obdurate Aston Villa side that had taken the lead through Christian Benteke, Chelsea’s greatest player stepped up. With the match reduced to 10-a-side after red cards for Ramires and Benteke, the game turned decisively in the Blues’ favour on the hour mark when Lampard launched an unstoppable left-foot drive into the top corner of Brad Guzan’s net to pull level with Tambling.
Then two minutes from time, magnificent work from Hazard found the veteran ghosting into the six-yard box in trademark style and the result was inevitable.
Lampard’s brace was impressive, not just because it made him the most prolific player in Chelsea’s history, but also because the goals came just when his team needed them like so many of his previous efforts, sending his club to Europe’s top table the following season. Cometh the hour, cometh the legend.
More history is made
Just a few days after Chelsea’s indefatigable No. 8 made his indelible mark on the record books, the club as a whole then carved its own entry by winning the Europa League. This particular cup run was neither expected nor wanted at the start of the season, and its drain on resources in a marathon campaign could have had a definitive negligible impact on the club’s ambitions.
As it turned out, a kind draw saw the Blues given an easy run to the final where Portuguese giants Benfica awaited. In a cagey, tense affair Branislav Ivanovic’s looping header in injury time was enough to send the trophy to West London though it needed a last-ditch double block from Gary Cahill on Oscar Cardozo moments later to ensure its destiny.
It meant that Chelsea became just the fourth team in history to have won each of Europe’s major club competitions -- European Cup/Champions League, UEFA Cup/Europa League and the now-defunct European Cup Winners Cup -- joining continental aristocrats Juventus, Bayern Munich and Ajax.
As well as ensuring that the season ended with some silverware, it also saw Benitez finally earn a modicum of respect from the supporters with applause emanating from a large portion of the Amsterdam Arena as he posed for photographs with the cup. It was not quite redemption for the former Liverpool boss though it was probably as close at is was ever likely to get
The Messiah returns
With the revolving door to the manager’s office at Stamford Bridge turning yet again with the inevitable departure of Benitez, rumours began to swirl over the possible return of Jose Mourinho. Seasoned observers were cautious; they had been there several times before over the past few years.
Ever since the Portuguese departed in the autumn of 2007, there had been talk he would be coming home. Indeed, every managerial exit had prompted the same tittle-tattle only for Chelsea fans to be largely left disappointed -- the appointments of Guus Hiddink and Carlo Ancelotti the exception.
This time, though, the stars seemed to be aligning. Mourinho and Real Madrid had agreed to part ways, potential suitors PSG and Manchester City had made other appointments while serial winners Manchester United -- Mou's expected destination -- had, in David Moyes, made a rather bold decision to appoint someone that had never won a trophy.
The door was open for a dramatic and emotional reunion with the Stamford Bridge faithful and a deal was duly hammered out with owner Roman Abramovich. The two-time Premier League-winning manager was back at his spiritual home and the roar that greeted him as he emerged for the season opener against Hull City made the hairs stand up on the back of the neck -- the polar opposite of what greeted Benitez nine months earlier.
The Special One was back.
Remember, remember the month of November
There might have been a new, if familiar, manager in place but some things remained the same -- namely the annual nosedive during November. Chelsea had sauntered through October with a perfect record having swatted aside Steaua Bucharest, Norwich City, Cardiff City, Schalke, Manchester City and Arsenal in all competitions.
The stage appeared to be set for the Blues to grab the title race by the horns and forge into the distance only, for the November hoodoo to strike once again.
An inexplicably lifeless display at Newcastle United saw them slump to a 2-0 loss that kick-started the Magpies season before only a dubious penalty decision in injury time averted defeat at home to West Bromwich Albion in their next Premier League outing. It was not entirely gloomy as 3-0 wins against West Ham and Schalke will attest, though a fully deserved 1-0 reverse at Basel illustrated the erratic nature of Chelsea’s performances.
Results since then have remained unpredictable, yet the confidence remains that Chelsea are heading in the right direction. The right man is at the helm and it has to be hoped that patience will be afforded to him by both the owner and the supporters should the season not culminate with silverware.
Despite supposedly underperforming, the Blues sit just two points off the top of the Premier League and are in the knockout stages of the Champions League. If they continue to build under Mourinho’s guidance, then 2014 could be the start of something very special indeed.
Follow Phil Lythell on Twitter @PhilLythell